While the sports world has been well aware of the imminent television marriage of the Texas Longhorns and ESPN since the fall, it didn’t make the figures released in Wednesday's announcement any less staggering: $300 million over 20 years.
With the ‘Horns set to net between $13 million and $15 million per year from its new network alone, UT’s eventual resistance to hopping conferences this summer now makes even more sense.
Of course, the news also underscored a point that was made clear back when news of BevoTV first broke. Texas has little use for the rest of the Big 12, and the rest of the conference may not have much to gain by staying tied to UT, either.
The big carrot in front of the Big 12 schools that opted to stay together last summer was a national television network similar to what the Big Ten currently has in place. When the ‘Horns hopped into bed with the Worldwide Leader, that dream died.
(People can get mad if they want, but I refuse to fault Texas for looking out for its own best interest in the whole thing. Texas didn’t break the terms of any agreements. If Bevo and Co. did pull a fast one on the rest of the Big 12, that was always the risk of partnering with them in the first place.)
Still, Texas’ every-man-for-himself prerogative probably makes the Big 12 untenable. With a conference network out of the picture and what I imagine to be a festering sense of mistrust among the member schools, the long-term outlook for the conference seems bleaker than ever. (And by “long term,” I’m talking, like, two years.)
So, what now?
Working from the perspective of an OU fan, I developed three scenarios that I think are plausible and could benefit the Sooners.
Before we break it down, a couple constraints and objectives:
- OU and Oklahoma State have to stay together;
- OU would prefer to stay tied to some Texas schools for purposes of logistics, recruiting and tradition.
With that in mind, here’s what I came up with:
Option 1: Southwest Conference 2.0
Essentially, the remaining nine Big 12 schools break off from Texas to form the guts of a new 12-team conference. The new league would try to poach three more schools to add as new members, or, ideally, get a commitment beforehand. Candidates might include TCU, Memphis, Louisville, Central Florida, Houston, Arkansas.
-League has presence in major television markets in Texas.
-Strong basketball league (if that matters).
-Can re-institute conference championship game.
-The quality of the football programs in the conference could be diluted depending on which teams are included.
Option 2: Superconference - Beta Version
Oklahoma, OSU, Texas A&M and Texas Tech approach SEC and Pac-10 about joining to form a 16-team mega-conference.
-Strong football conferences.
-Lucrative TV deals await, including national TV networks.
-For the Pac-10, the geography of the league would stink.
-As for the SEC, um, did you follow the Cam Newton-related chicanery this fall? When it comes to back-stabbing and histrionic drama, "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" pales in comparison to the Southeastern Conference. Plus, there's that obnoxious "S-E-C! S-E-C!"
Option 3: Boring Old Big 12
OK, I realize that I just gave the Big 12 a dismal prognosis. But one thing to consider is that conference affiliation could soon become less of a factor in the college football business model. Individual school networks may change the game.
If there's more money to be made in schools establishing their own television channels, conference networks on the scale of the Big Ten Network will likely grow irrelevant. The gravitation towards Web-based delivery of TV may negate the need for traditional cable channels, lowering the costs and barriers to entry for schools to create their own versions of the Longhorn Network, abeit on a smaller scale.
(OU's plan to create its own network may provide some insight into which way the Sooner braintrust is leaning on this one.)
As such, schools may need conferences more for organizing than actually generating revenue, which makes keeping the Big 12 together a more palatable option.
I'm just spitballing, though, and I doubt I have a strong enough grasp of the issues related to the television packages to have covered all of the bases. Would love to hear some feedback from those more knowledgeable on the subject.